Managing your time means managing your life

Success: the magic word of today. This is what we went to college for, this is why we spent countless hours studying, this is what we work towards, this is what we dream of. It is all about success and being successful today. But just what is success?

Now, I know what you are thinking, success is different for everyone and everyone has their own definition. True. Yet the fact is, when we speak of success most of us picture a professional in the prime of their life who either has their own business or holds a managerial position in a well-known, well-respected, high profits corporation.

This is what success looks like in the minds of most of us, this is the stereotype. And there’s nothing wrong with it as long as we realise that this image is only part of the picture but also that getting to that place requires a lot of work and energy but most importantly, a lot of time.

At the risk of this sounding very cliché-like, time is the most valuable commodity in our lives for one simple reason – it is the one thing no one could ever give you back. Once you spend it on something it is gone and that’s it. You can’t take it back.

This is very easy to forget today and especially when it comes to work. We get carried away, obsessed with the idea that to become successful we need to work hard and we just assume it is okay to be on the go all the time.  Increasingly dependent on mobiles, apps, email and Internet, it’s easy to get caught up on a treadmill of endless work tasks. This is particularly true for small and medium sized businesses as entrepreneurs sacrifice an awful lot to see their business survive and grow.

Yet, we shouldn’t forget that investing time in a certain activity means not investing it in something else, something that you might prefer to be doing. I won’t bore you with the overly discussed, overly dramatized topic of work-life balance. A term that I personally disagree with, because it implies that as one area of your life improves, something else suffers. I would like to point out however that managing your time better does mean managing your life better.

Time management is one of the great challenges of today as we live in a world with ever more distractions. It is the key to what I call real success and here are a few tips that will help you organise your time better:

1.Analyse. The single most important step is to understand what is really important for your business. You need to realise what you and your employees spend the most time working on, what you spend the least time working on and which activities actually bring money into the company. A lot of managers out there rush into dealing with current matters and urgent situations and they haven’t got a clue as to which activities bring business in. Are you spending too much time with less important clients? Set limits that will free up some time for more important clients. Are you being perfectionist with tasks that don’t matter? Time spent labouring over a task that is unimportant is time wasted. Focus your enthusiasm and effort on more productive activities.

One way to find out what is truly important to your business is keeping a log of all your daily activities. It will help you weed out the most time-sapping areas of your working day and prioritise better. Analysing takes a bit of time and it could be annoying doing it, but it will save you a lot of time in the end of the day.

2. Prioritise. Start off the day by making a list of all the tasks that you would like to complete for the day. It might be a lot of things but realistically not all are that important, right? Then mark with a star the ones that are urgent and important and absolutely need to be done today. Think about what meetings you have, what errands you need to run and decide on a time frame that you will dedicate to these few tasks which are pressing. Once you are finished with the priorities for the day, try to complete as many of the rest of the tasks as you can. What is left can surely wait till tomorrow.

3. Act. Don’t push back handling the tasks you know you will inevitably need to handle. Procrastinating is one of the worst enemies of effective time management. Tackling the difficult tasks quickly and effectively will help clear both your diary and your mind. With that in mind, slow decision-making also robs us of valuable time. Your first inclination on a decision, provided you’ve considered all the key details, might be the best. Slow decision-making means there’s less time left for the other tasks in your diary.

4. Focus. In other words, concentrate on the task at hand, no distractions. Once you start working on your priorities, don’t let anybody or anything else distract you. No answering your phone, no answering emails, no answering questions. Remember: these are your priorities today; everything else can wait for an hour or two or somebody else can take care of it.

5. Limit. Put some boundaries to your day. You could give yourself permission to start as early as you wish, but decide on a no-work zone after say, 6pm. While working on your most urgent tasks, keep in mind that you’ve promised yourself to leave the office at whatever time. Let your colleagues know when you are not to be distracted unless it is urgent. If you let people distract you, it means that you will take twice the time to complete your own work and you won’t be able to leave on time. It won’t be fair to yourself. Calls can be returned and emails can be answered later.

Time is valuable. Every minute of your life is precious so be careful about how you spend it. Don’t forget why you started off your company or you worked hard towards the position you hold in the first place. It wasn’t just so you could wear a fancy suit or have enough money to afford stuff. It was also about independence and freedom so you could spend more time doing the things you like with the people you love being with. Wasn’t it? And this is what real success is: having both the time and the money to enjoy your life in a way that you find the most fulfilling. That being said, managing your time effectively is managing your life.